Thursday, May 3, 2012

OBU's Peers: Texas Baptist Schools?

OBU's Peers Series:
Intro: Who's In the Same Boat?
OBU's Peers: Nondenominational Colleges?
OBU's Peers: Nearby Baptist Colleges (Ouachita and Southwest Baptist)?
OBU's Peers: Texas Baptist Colleges?
OBU's Peers: Union University?

**Please circulate widely among faculty/students at BGCT schools, OBU alumni in TX, and TX Baptist friends in general.**

This week, we're looking at how OBU's peer institutions are faring with respect to academic freedom.  To review, we already know that formerly Baptist schools like Stetson and Furman, to say nothing of Wake Forest and Baylor, broke free of convention control before the fundamentalists could undermine them.  A more relevant ex-Baptist peer institution is William Jewell College, which continues to raise its profile as a leader in Christian liberal arts education without having to kowtow to the Missouri Baptist Convention.  On the other hand, OBU is in no serious danger of becoming as thoroughly fundamentalist as Brewton-Parker or Truett-McConnell, two Georgia Baptist colleges that do not even pretend to be legitimate academic institutions anymore.

We've been looking a little closer home in our search for schools in the same boat we're in: trying to preserve academic freedom, rigor, and integrity while having to satisfy an increasingly fundamentalist state convention.  Nondenominational Christian colleges (and seminaries) have flourished since the Fundamentalist Takeover of the SBC ushered in the slow, painful degradation of Baptist higher education.  And these institutions have maintained their Christian character, something fundamentalist sympathizers claim Baptist schools would lose without being "doctrinally accountable" to state conventions.  Nearby SBC schools such as Ouachita Baptist Univ. and Southwest Baptist Univ. have held their own, with "the other" OBU doing a better job protecting academic freedom and SBU surviving with a more conservative ethos, but no Georgia Baptist Convention-style assault on the institution.

Today we look south to Texas.  As with the past couple days, my aim here is not really to provide in-depth reporting about the state of academic freedom at other Baptist schools.  Rather, I want to invite constituents of those schools into our conversation so that we can learn more about how they protect academic freedom, the degree to which it has been preserved or undermined, and how these schools relate to their state conventions.  As our readers have done the past few days, forwarding this page to friends at Wheaton, Gordon, Biola, Ouachita, SBU, etc., I encourage you to help get the word out to the BGCT schools.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas
One of the few holdouts in Southern Baptist life, the BGCT resisted repeated and determined attempts by fundamentalist to take control of the state convention as they did everywhere else (Virginia being the notable exception).  Thankfully, Texas Baptists did not have the appetite for fundamentalist politics or tactics.  Many of our friends at Texas Baptists Committed were actively involved in the effort to preserve historic Baptist freedoms from fundamentalist encroachment.

In 1998, hard-liners formed their own state convention, the Southern Baptists of Texas, as a fundamentalist alternative to the still-conservative BGCT.  Most major players in SBC life from Texas are from fundamentalist SBTC churches (including, for those keeping score at home, OBU's favorite token black chapel preacher, Rev. Dr. Voddie Baucham).  Even as fundamentalists continue to try to destroy the BGCT using deceptive tactics such as infiltrating churches, the BGCT continues to coordinate the collective ministry of Texas Baptists. Though not without problems of its own, the BGCO embodies missional engagement and ecumenical spirit.

Baptist Colleges in Texas

The SBC website lists a dozen Baptist colleges in Texas.  Let's divide them into categories based on affiliation:

The College at Southwestern
This one doesn't really count, since it's not affiliated with a state convention.  But after the Takeover, all six SBC seminaries decided to start undergraduate programs, supposedly to make a boatload of cash to subsidize the seminaries provide a sufficiently fundamentalist education because convention-controlled colleges could no longer be trusted to do so.  Apparently, degrading graduate education wasn't enough for them, so they opened fire on undergraduate education as well.   Operating under the auspices of the seminaries made accreditation -- which certain seminaries almost lost and these undergraduate programs surely could not attain on their own -- a non-issue.  The College at Southwestern has a distinguished professor of homemaking (I swear I am not making this up), along with 11 other (male) professors.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Schools
The SBTC controls Criswell College and Jacksonville College.  Criswell College, as I understand it, started off under the auspices of the First Baptist Church of Dallas.  After several problems with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Criswell barely managed to get its accreditation renewed.  Its trustees include SBC celebrities such as Paul Pressler and Richard Land.  Criswell's president, who left the school in 2008 but returned in 2010 after it separated from FBC Dallas, is a past trustee of Southern Seminary where he was an accomplice in young President Al Mohler's "reforms."  So clearly this place really doesn't care about academic freedom.

The SBTC's other institution is Jacksonville College, a two-year school.

Baptist General Convention of Texas Schools
The BGCT is affiliated with Baptist University of the Americas, Baylor, Dallas Baptist, East Texas Baptist, Hardin-Simmons, Howard Payne, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, and Wayland Baptist.

Houston Baptist, which is considering a name change, is a BGCT affiliate but is also "fraternally related" to the SBTC.  I'm not sure exactly what that means, but hopefully someone will clarify.

All but BUA and Wayland are CCCU members.  (Notably, Criswell and Jacksonville are not.  Maybe the CCCU is too liberal for them.)

Now, most OBU people will recognize some of these schools as our competitors in NAIA athletics.  But since a number of OBU students and alumni are from Texas, my hunch is that some of you will have considerable knowledge about each of these BGCT institutions.  I regret that I don't have time to investigate these schools as rigorously as I researched the Georgia schools for our Downward Spiral Series a few weeks ago.  But if it becomes relevant, we will dig as deeply as we need to in order to learn what we can from these schools' experiences.  My hunch is that they have not had problems recently, but please chime in to set the record straight where I am missing important nuances or even facts.

Academic freedom should be well protected at BGCT schools, because the schools do not have a fundamentalist state convention to appease.  The Baylor situation is a bit more complicated, as it is now a world-class research university.  The liberal arts colleges, however, may indeed be relevant peers to OBU because of their Christian character and relationship to a Baptist state convention, even though none appear in the Forbes rankings of 600+ colleges.  While I'm sure that, like OBU, each of these universities has a conservative ethos and a proven commitment to Christianity, I would not assume they have had problems with academic freedom in the past 10 or 15 years.

It's interesting to imagine what problems OBU might have avoided if it were affiliated with a convention like the BGCT.  For one thing, our current provost never would have set foot on campus, on the basis of convention affiliation alone.  SBC climbers and power brokers absolutely detest the BGCT (but they can't live without the BGCT's sizable contribution to the SBC's coffers in Nashville).  OBU wouldn't have to pander to SBC fundamentalists out of a desire for self-preservation (or to appease the BGCO).  The Class of 1959's statue of James Ralph Scales, a true champion of pre-Takeover Baptist higher education, wouldn't seem like such an ironically cruel joke.  Heck, you might even be able to buy a non-fundamentalist classic book on campus!

In closing, I want to thank our BGCT-affiliated friends for taking the time to read this post and learn about our movement.  You are invited to join us on Facebook and Twitter.  We welcome your support in our fight to preserve academic freedom, integrity, rigor, and relevance -- just as we would gladly stand in solidarity with you if you ever face fundamentalist encroachment.  Our readers have kept this page alive in Wheaton, Arkadelphia, and Bolivar this week.  Let's light up the state of Texas and let the world know that authentically Baptist Christian liberal arts education is our heritage and one we will fight to protect!


  1. FYI:
    Here's a conservative Presbyterian school in S.C. that's looking at governance issues:

  2. OBU owes a debt to Dr. Scales that is beyond measure.

  3. Your quote on criswell is wrong it did not barely get accreditation. It was a accounting error on sacs part


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